Sámi Prehistories: The Politics of Archaeology and Identity in Northernmost Europe

Ojala, Carl-Gösta

Throughout the history of archaeology, the Sámi (the indigenous people in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in the Russian Federation) have been conceptualized as the “Others” in relation to the national identity and (pre)history of the modern states. It is only in the last decades that a field of Sámi archaeology that studies Sámi (pre)history in its own right has emerged, parallel with an ethnic and cultural revival among Sámi groups.

This dissertation investigates the notions of Sámi prehistory and archaeology, partly from a research historical perspective and partly from a more contemporary political perspective. It explores how the Sámi and ideas about the Sámi past have been represented in archaeological narratives from the early 19th century until today, as well as the development of an academic field of Sámi archaeology.

The study consists of four main parts: 1) A critical examination of the conceptualization of ethnicity, nationalism and indigeneity in archaeological research. 2) A historical analysis of the representations and debates on Sámi prehistory, primarily in Sweden but also to some extent in Norway and Finland, focusing on four main themes: the origin of the Sámi people, South Sámi prehistory as a contested field of study, the development of reindeer herding, and Sámi pre-Christian religion. 3) An analysis of the study of the Sámi past in Russia, and a discussion on archaeological research and constructions of ethnicity and indigeneity in the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union. 4) An examination of the claims for greater Sámi self-determination concerning cultural heritage management and the debates on repatriation and reburial in the Nordic countries.

In the dissertation, it is argued that there is a great need for discussions on the ethics and politics of archaeological research. A relational network approach is suggested as a way of opening up some of the black boxes and bounded, static entities in the representations of people in the past in the North.